Rome buried in its ruins

Janus Vitalis’ “Qui Roman in media quaeris novus advena Roma”
 and eleven translations into five languages.

(Several commenters at the blog Language Hat contributed to this piece).

At the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, a Frenchman was able to read a poem on the ruins of Rome signed by Joachim du Bellay; a Pole knew the same poem as the work of Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński; a Spaniard, as the work of Francisco Quevedo; while the true author, whom the others adapted without scruple, was a little-known Latin humanist, Ianus [Janus] Vitalis of Palermo.

Czeslaw Milosz, “Starting from my Europe”
in The Witness of Poetry, Harvard, 1983
(Norton Lectures,  pp 1-21.) 

Qui Roman in media quaeris novus advena Roma is the rare case of the completely-translatable poem, probably because it is an epigram which relies on paraphrasable meaning, and I find J.M. Cohen’s prose version of theclosing line as effective as anyone’s: “Oh Rome, in your greatness and her beauty, what was firm has fled, and only the transitory remains and lasts.” The translators allowed do themselves some degree of freedom: for example, they address the poem variously to “the stranger”, “the pilgrim”, “the traveler”, and “the newcomer”.

To me the import of this poem is not as clear as it seems. It’s a meditation on the transience of glory, but Rome in just its imperial phase lasted for well over five centuries, and Rome cast such a shadow on later centuries that states were claiming to be Rome as late as 1917. (By 1917 the Holy Roman Empire no longer existed, having been abolished by Napoleon when he crowned himself Emperor, but let’s not be nitpicky.) Those of us who are uneasy about Empire can take little comfort from this poem.

De Roma
Janus Vitalis Panormitanus (d. 1560)
(Giani or Giovanni Vitali of Palermo)

Qui Romam in media quaeris novus advena Roma,
Et Romae in Roma nil reperis media,
Aspice murorum moles, praeruptaque saxa,
Obrutaque horrenti vasta theatra situ:
Haec sunt Roma. Viden velut ipsa cadavera, tantae
Urbis adhuc spirent imperiosa minas.
Vicit ut haec mundum, nixa est se vincere; vicit,
A se non victum ne quid in orbe foret.
Nunc victa in Roma Roma illa invicta sepulta est,
Atque eadem victrix victaque Roma fuit.
Albula Romani restat nunc nominis index,
Quinetiam rapidis fertur in aequor aquis.
Disce hinc, quid possit fortuna; immota labascunt,
Et quae perpetuo sunt agitata manent.

Joachim du Bellay

Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en Rome
Et rien de Rome en Rome n’aperçois,
Ces vieux palais, ces vieux arcs que tu vois,
Et ces vieux murs, c’est ce que Rome on nomme.

Vois quel orgueil, quelle ruine : et comme
Celle qui mit le monde sous ses lois,
Pour dompter tout, se dompta quelquefois,
Et devint proie au temps, qui tout consomme.

Rome de Rome est le seul monument,
Et Rome Rome a vaincu seulement.
Le Tibre seul, qui vers la mer s’enfuit,

Reste de Rome. ô mondaine inconstance !
Ce qui est ferme, est par le temps détruit,
Et ce qui fuit, au temps fait résistance.

Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas

Buscas en Roma a Roma ¡oh peregrino!
Y en Roma misma a Roma no la hallas:
Cadáver con las que ostentó murallas,
Y, tumba de sí proprio, el Aventino.
Yace, donde reinaba, el Palatino;
Y limadas del tiempo las medallas,
Más se muestran destrozo a las batallas
De las edades, que blasón latino.
Soló el Tíber quedó cuya corriente
Si ciudad la regó, ya sepoltura
La llora con funeste son doliente.
¡Oh Roma!, en tu grandeza, en tu hermosura
huyó lo que era firme, y solamente
lo fugitivo permanece y dura.

Thomas Heywood  

New Stranger to the City come,
Who midst of Rome enquir’st for Rome,
And midst of Rome canst nothing spye
That looks like Rome, cast backe thine eye;
Behold of walls the ruin’d mole,
The broken stones not one left whole;
Vast Theatres and Structures high,
That levell with the ground now lye,
These now are Rome, and of that Towne
Th’Imperious Reliques still do frowne,
And ev’n in their demolisht seat
The Heav’ns above them seem to threat,
As she the World did once subdue,
Ev’n to her selfe she overthrew;
Her hand in her owne bloud she embru’d,
Lest she should leave ought unsubdu’d:
Vanquisht in Rome, Invict Rome now
Intombed lies, as forc’d to bow.
In Vanquisher and Vanquished.
The river Albula’s the same,           
And still preserves the Roman name;
Which with a swift and speedy motion
Is hourely hurry’d to the Ocean.
Learne hence what Fortune can; what’s strong
And seemeth fixt, endures not long:
But more assurance may be layd
On what is moving and unstayed.
(From  Renaissance Latin Poetry, compiled and edited by I. D. McFarlane.  Manchester University Press/Barnes and Noble: New York, 1980; English translation originally from Thomas Heywood, The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells,  London, 1637).

Edmund Spenser
Ruins of Rome : By Bellay

Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seekest,
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv’st at all,
These same old walls, old arches, which thou seest,
Old Palaces, is that which Rome men call.
Behold what wreak, what ruin, and what waste,
And how that she, which with her mighty power
Tam’d all the world, hath tam’d herself at last,
The prey of time, which all things doth devour.
Rome now of Rome is th’ only funeral,
And only Rome of Rome hath victory;
Ne ought save Tyber hastening to his fall
Remains of all: O world’s inconstancy.
That which is firm doth flit and fall away,
And that is flitting, doth abide and stay.

(This is only Part 3 of a longer poem consisting of 32 sonnets plus an envoi. . Complete Spenser poem

Ezra Pound

O thou new comer who seek’st Rome in Rome
And find’st in Rome no thing thou canst call Roman
Arches worn old and palaces made common,
Rome’s name alone within these walls keeps home.
Behold how pride and ruin can befall
One who hath set the whole world ‘neath her laws,
All-conquering, now conquered, because
She is Time’s prey and Time consumeth all.
Rome that art Rome’s one sole last monument,
Rome that alone hast conquered Rome the town,
Tiber alone, transient and seaward bent,
Remains of Rome. O world, thou unconstant mime!
That which stands firm in thee Time batters down,
And that which fleeteth doth outrun swift time.

(From Personae )

Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński

Ty, co Rzym wpośród Rzyma chcąc baczyć, pielgrzymie,
A wżdy baczyć nie możesz w samym Rzyma Rzymie,
Patrzaj na okrąg murów i w rum obrócone
Teatra i kościoły, i słupy stłuczone:
To są Rzym. Widzisz, jako miasta tak możnego
I trup szczęścia poważność wypuszcza pierwszego.
To miasto, świat zwalczywszy, i siebie zwalczyło,
By nic niezwalczonego od niego nie było.
Dziś w Rzymie zwyciężonym Rzym niezwyciężony
(To jest ciało w swym cieniu) leży pogrzebiony.
Wszytko się w nim zmieniło, sam trwa prócz odmiany
Tyber, z piaskiem do morza co bieży zmieszany.
Patrz, co Fortuna broi: to się popsowało,
Co było nieruchome; trwa, co się ruchało.

Unknown translator (from Sęp-Szarzyński)   If midst Rome you wish to see Rome, pilgrim,
Tho in Rome naught of Rome might you see,
Behold the walls’ ring, the theatres, temples
And ruptured pillars, to rubble all turned,
Rome be these! Mark how the corpse of a city
So strong still past fortune’s pomp exudes;
Subduing a world, herself the city subdued
Lest yet more to subdue might there be.
Today in broken Rome, Rome unbroken
(A substance in its shadow) lies entombed.
Within all’s changed; alone past change
Tiber remains, that to sea runs mixed with sand.
See what Fortune plays: ’tis wasted away,
What was unmoving; what moved, yet remains.  
Leonid Tsyv’yan (Цывьян)
(ок.1550-1581) ЭПИТАФИЯ РИМУ Ты в Риме хочешь Рим увидеть, пилигрим,
Но тщетно смотришь ты: средь Рима Рим незрим.
Обломки статуй и остатки стен старинных,
Театры, портики, лежащие в руинах, –
Се вечный град. Взгляни: погиб державный Рим,
Но полон труп его величием былым. Рим, покоривший свет, себя поверг и свету
Тем показал: пред ним неодолимых нету,
И, побежден собой – непобедимый – он
Своей гробницей стал: Рим в Риме погребен.
Переменилось всё, и лишь без измененья,
С песком мешаясь, Тибр стремит свое теченье.
Вот каверза Судьбы: лежит во прахе тот,
Кто слыл незыблемым, а зыбкое живет. Here is something with reference to Brodsky and this poem: “Открытка из города К.”, по Венцлове, – сонет, в котором Кенигсберг “играет роль Рима”, а автор следует традиции “эпитафий Риму” (Ианус Виталис, Дю Белле, Спенсер, Кеведо, Семп-Шажиньский), где “разрушенные строения “вечного города” противопоставлены водам Тибра: парадокс, имеющий и теологическое измерение” (“сохраняется текучеее и ненадежное, а бренным оказывается мощное, сверхматериальное”). Таким образом, кенигсбергские стихи – подходы к римской теме у Бродского…  “Postcard from the City of K.” — according to [Thomas] Venclova, a sonnet in which Konigsberg “plays the role of Rome” and the author follows the tradition of the “epitaph for Rome” (Janus Vitalis, Du Bellay, Spenser, Quevedo, Sęp-Szarzyński), where “the ruined buildings of the ‘eternal city’ are contrasted with the waters of the Tiber: a paradox having theological dimensions as well” (“the flowing and unreliable is preserved, the mighty and supersubstantial is transitory”). Thus the Konigsberg verses are an approach to the Roman theme in Brodsky…” From a speech at the Brodsky readings, which Sluzhevskay reports as Oct 28, 2000.   Here’s the Brodsky poem: Иосиф Бродский ОТКРЫТКА ИЗ ГОРОДА К. Томасу Венцлова

Развалины есть праздник кислорода
и времени. Новейший Архимед
прибавить мог бы к старому закону,
что тело, помещенное в пространство,
пространством вытесняется.
дробит в зерцале пасмурном руины
Дворца Курфюрста; и, небось, теперь
пророчествам реки он больше внемлет,
чем в те самоуверенные дни,
когда курфюрст его отгрохал.
среди развалин бродит, вороша
листву запрошлогоднюю. То – ветер,
как блудный сын, вернулся в отчий дом
и сразу получил все письма 1967 Сочинения Иосифа Бродского.
Пушкинский фонд.
Санкт-Петербург, 1992. Many thanks to Tatyana, frequent Language Hat commentator, for the Russian material.

Janus Secundus, another Dutch neo-Latin poet
Baldassarre Castiglione on the ruins of Rome
More poems about permanence and transience
Waiting for the Barbarians